Tests Can’t Measure the Character of Students And Other Reasons Your Kids Aren’t Numbers

Invariably, in many social situations, I am asked that same ubiquitous question many people face: “So, what do you do for a living?” And when I answer that I am a teacher the reactions are varied.  “Wow, that must be exciting!”  “Do you guys still use red ink?” “How do you handle those kids?” “I wouldn’t have the patience.” Some people have even said, “I’m sorry.”

While there may be some lightheartedness involved, conversations about education usually ensue because everybody in the community has a stake in the public education system: students attend schools, parents support efforts, employees hire graduates, and taxpayers help fund buildings and resources. But there are those who really question the path that public education has taken and lack confidence in our young people and their role as future leaders. It is with these people that I talk about West Forsyth and the Lewisville-Clemmons community. In fact, I can speak glowingly of all our schools here in the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County system. I can go even further than that. I can brag about all of our public schools here in North Carolina.

I am not here to compare schools, but having spent the last ten-plus years at West Forsyth gives me insight into at least one of them. The fact that West Forsyth is recognized as a high-performing school and that our students pursue worthwhile postsecondary endeavors speaks incredibly well, but our students are more than achievers in academics. It’s because they succeed in being good people that helps set this school apart. I am more than confident that many people who read this post can substitute another school’s name in West’s place and still speak the truth.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, once said, “We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” Most all of the young people I see every day understand the meaning of those words and the character they show inside and outside the classroom is a reason that we should celebrate the work our schools do.

In a country where we identify schools through acronyms like NCLB, EOCT’s, EOG’s, SAT’s, ACT’s, AP’s, ABC’s, and AYP’s, it’s reassuring to know that our young people also define themselves with more standards than those of an academic transcript. Don’t get me wrong; the academics are important, but if we want to educate the complete student, then we must honor character, and our students are very honorable because they distinguish themselves by their character and the impression they leave on others. If that is a criterion for having faith in this next generation, then the students I matriculate with every day at West have instilled confidence within me. The students I come across in other schools instill that same confidence within me.

When you as a teacher begin to see the third and fourth sibling from the same family in your classes, or have been sent wedding invitations from former students, or have embraced a family member at a funeral for a previous pupil, then you have been at the same school for a long time, or better yet, become a member of a community that loves and nurtures its own.

When you receive notes and visits from students who have long past graduated, then you know you have made an impression, hopefully a positive one. And when you are met by a parent whom you do not even recognize but wanted to thank you for what you taught his/her child, then you know that you are in the right profession. And when the first child of a former student graces my doorway for class, then I will be more than glad to talk of his/her parent’s adventures in school, possibly with some embellishment.

My own daughter now attends West as a freshman. There was no need to show her around campus or introduce her to the administration or the teachers; she already was familiar with West. That’s because she already was invested in one of the cornerstones of our community: the public high school.

 

 

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Malcolm’s Wish For World Down Syndrome Day (3/21)

Every year on March 21, the Down Syndrome International sponsors for the world community a WORLD DOWN SYNDROME DAY. You can read more about it here: https://worlddownsyndromeday.org/.

The date is a direct reference to genetic condition known as Trisomy 21 (three #21 chromosomes) which is commonly known as Down Syndrome.

But Malcolm does not thin much about the fact that he has a little bit more genetic material than most people do. In fact, he could care less as long as he feels included just like other kids.

So Malcolm asked me to tell you that he wants people to more inclusive and accepting of what are really minors differences we all have because whether you have Down Syndrome or not, we are more alike than different.

That is unless you are not redheaded and blue-eyed like over 99% of the world which makes Malcolm part of rarest minority in the world in that regard.

And he wanted me to share some pictures of him that show how uniquely alike he is to other kids.

And here’s to the fact that Malcolm never really needs a special day to just be.

Any day will do.

Musings With Malcolm – Time To Get a New Baseball Glove To Match the Hair

If you keep up with just a few of the postings about our little fireplug, you may have noticed that we have been in a bit of spring training. Why?

Baseball season is about to start.

For Malcolm, that means the Challenger League that for years has been running at Southwest Forsyth Little League with the tireless efforts of great people with big hearts and infinite patience.

For me, it allows a dad to share his favorite game with his boy.

And an excuse to go shopping for equipment.

Malcolm’s glove from the last two years has taken a little bit of a beating and to tell you the truth, he has grown some – finally. At last weigh-in, he was a little over 70 pounds of pure muscle driven by a love to play.

If you do not know about the Challenger League, kids of all ages who have developmental and physical delays come together to play baseball and they are assisted on the field by typical developing kids who run with them, field with them, and simply guide them through the process.

Everyone gets to hit at least twice.

There is no losing team. Just winners.

Malcolm goes to run, drink water, and talk to the ladies. And wear red.

glove4glove5

 

Yep, that’s his batting helmet. Sometimes he wears it at home when he plays on the Wii. Or sleeps. Or just hangs out. Sometimes he makes me wear it.

But since seeing his favorite baseball and softball teams at West Forsyth already take the field, we needed to go ahead and get that new glove.

Malcolm picked it out himself. Rawlings of course.

And it is RED!

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Like the hair. Like the fire in his belly. Like the flames that burn the field when he runs after a hit like this:

At least until he sees a lady he wants to say “Hello” to.

Boy has priorities.

By the way, #7 is also the number of Mickey Mantle, one of the greatest switch-hitters to ever live. But more importantly, we went and got ice-cream afterwards.

Only one hand is needed for eating a cone. Glove was on the other.

About Betsy DeVos’s Op-Ed in USA Today

Not only does she speak incoherently in confirmation hearings.

Not only does she tweet her own platitudes.

She now writes op-eds full of glittering claims without any data with a hint of some outlier data with simply no analysis bookended with enough bullshit to leave a stench in your nose to make you blame it on the dog.

In fact, here it is straight from the March 2, 2017 edition of USA Today’s online edition. Note: It did have to be corrected because she misidentified the very grant she was praising in the op-ed (http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2017/03/02/betsy-devos-trump-delivers-education-promises-column/98594982/) .

I have taken the liberty to add a few thoughts as they presented themselves in my mind while reading as I am an educator in public schools, a parent of public school students, a voter, and a tax-payer. I am also one of about 200 million Americans who are more qualified to be secretary of education than Betsy DeVos.

devos usa today

Corrections & clarifications: An earlier version of this column misidentified a Department of Education program called “School Improvement Grants.” 

President Trump’s first address to the joint session of Congress was clear: promises made, promises kept. The president promised to shake up the status quo in Washington, and he has. He also promised to release his tax returns and to present evidence of wiretapping. From keeping Carrier in the United States (you might want to see how many jobs are still going to Mexico and how much tax breaks Carrier was able to leverage from Trump and Pence since iot was Pence’s home state) to nominating the highly qualified Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court (who is getting a little flack from conservatives for his religious background) , our president continues to follow through on his word (like getting Mexico to pay for the wall).

He’s also delivering on his promises for education (by presenting a budget that slashes federal money to public education).

The president made a point during the campaign to highlight the problems low-income families face in accessing a quality education (so he is backing an insurance plan that will make poorer people pay more to be insured and cut more programs that benefit poorer families while granting rich people and corporations tax breaks). We cannot hope to get America back on track if we do nothing to improve education for the poorest among us (just like you did in Michigan? Wait, like you didn’t do in Michigan?).

The achievement gaps in education result in hundreds of billions of dollars of lost economic potential every year and looking at the amount of segregation that occurs in the privatization efforts you have led in Michigan through your efforts, that is not surprising. And these gaps disproportionately harm minority students. Currently, more than 40% of African-American male students do not graduate high school. And achievement gaps are symptomatic of opportunity gaps and income gaps. You know anything about that? Of course you do!

These are more than just stats. They are the product of long-term trends.

For too long, Washington has focused on issuing edicts from its bubble, rather than empowering and amplifying solutions found at the grassroots level. Mrs. DeVos, I would not consider you someone who is starting a grassroots effort. You are ditating your will from a pedestal above others that you bought. We need to retire Washington’s top-down approach and instead empower answers from the bottom up. That’s rich coming from someone who literally paid her way into office and has given tens of millions of dollars to influence the very policies that benefit herself and her family.

But we also know the answer is not simply an increase in funding But an increase in contributions to those who can confirm you and then divert monies to charters and vouchers that benefit you and those who associate with you. As we saw under the Obama administration, one of its main initiatives was the “School Improvement Grants,” which pumped $7 billion into some of our most underserved schools. The only problem was that as the administration was walking out the door, it released a report showing that the grants had zero impact in improving test scores, graduation rates or college preparedness. Is that proficiency or growth?

We cannot rely on throwing money at this problem like administrations past (Ma’am, you throw more money than anyone). Instead, we need to enact serious, substantive reforms that go to the source of the problem. Are those the reforms you were talking about during your conformation hearings?

This work has already begun. On Tuesday, the president signed an executive order that elevates the initiative on historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), giving them greater access to policymaking in the White House.

Their history was born not out of mere choice Actually, what you said about HBCU’s was that they were about choice. Maybe you need to reread your words)but out of necessity, in the face of racism, and in the aftermath of the Civil War. HBCUs remain at the forefront of opening doors that had been unjustly closed to so many you might want to look at the segregating trends of religious and charter schools. They made higher education accessible to students who otherwise would have been denied the opportunity.

We must follow their lead and apply that same thinking to our K-12 system because the same reality exists: Too many students live without access to quality schools. These children and teenagers are assigned to failing schools based solely on the ZIP code in which they live. If they don’t have the means to move to a better school district, then they’re trapped. They’re trapped also when they do not have access to food, medical care, mental health, safety, jobs, a lot of things that Trump’s budget seems to ignore.

This is not only unfair, it is also unjust. That’s the first things you have said that’s right.

The left Why is public education political? continues to say they have a monopoly on compassion for our country’s poor, yet they consistently oppose the very reforms that can do the most good to close the education gap. The numbers continue to show that increasing school options has a positive effect on students generally, and an even greater impact on poor and minority students. SHOW ME!!! If we truly want to provide better education to underserved communities, then it must start with giving parents and students school choice. Actually if want to provide a better education to people in poorer communities you create conditions where they are not poorer.

Trump has delivered on his promise to support school choice and offer students access to quality options. No child, regardless of her ZIP code or family income, should be denied access to quality education. Then support  public schools – all of them.

Together, we can help our nation’s students: those trapped in underperforming schools and those slipping through the cracks. One of those students was Denisha Merriweather, a guest of the first lady at Tuesday’s address. Denisha is living proof that school choice can break the cycle of poverty and provide transformative change. As a result of Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program, Denisha became the first in her family to graduate high school, college and, later this May, with a master’s degree in social work. Denisha’s story is but one example of the opportunity we should afford to millions of students across our country. You have not been in many public school have you Mrs. DeVos?

Kids are 100% of our future. It is imperative that we do everything we can to ensure they each have an equal opportunity to a school where they can learn and thrive. The next generation deserves no less. Then let someone who knows something about education sit at your desk.

Betsy DeVos is the secretary of Education. In title only.

 

 

Growth Vs. Proficiency, School Performance Grades, & A Dissenting Vote

Simply put, North Carolina should allow student growth to weigh more in the formula that measures school performance grades. (Honestly, we should get rid of it).

This past week a bill passed the General Assembly House K-12 Education Committee that according to an EdNC.org report from Alex Granados “would change the calculation of the grades from 80 percent academic performance and 20 percent growth to a 50-50 split” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/03/15/house-committee-tackles-school-performance-grade-change/).

Granados explains,

“Academic performance is measured by students’ proficiency on statewide tests whereas academic growth is how much academic progress students make during the year.”

For those who suffer from Betsy DeVos’s “I Don’t Know The Difference Between Proficiency And Growth Syndrome”, that means more of an emphasis on whether students are growing from the beginning of the year to the end of the school year.

And this is a step in the right direction for a group of lawmakers who have shown to be less than proficient when it comes to helping public education.

Proficiency is measured by tests. And no, I am not advocating that we eliminate all tests, but when a state can administer tests that are constructed arbitrarily, many times graded by computer, converted by unknown algorithms, and mostly unexplained with ambiguous score reports, then feedback on improvement is almost nonexistent.

Tweak an algorithm here and a cut score there and quite a number of school performance grades change. Proficiency becomes a luck of the draw. Growth then becomes less emphasized when growth is what we are after the whole time.

Athletes train to get better. Professionals work to get better. Skills are worked on to become sharper. They seek growth.

And to think that all of the students who walk in to a classroom come in at the same level is ludicrous. Too many factors affecting their academic performance outside of class weigh heavily on their achievement on the very items that lawmakers say measure “proficiency” – hunger, poverty, health, safety, emotional and mental health, the list goes on.

Ironically, lawmakers can do a lot more about those factors and actually ensure that there is more potential for growth in many of our students.

Granados’s report also talked about one dissenting vote in the committee’s debate about changing the formula for school performance grades.

The lone holdout on Tuesday’s vote was committee co-chair Rep. Debra Conrad, R-Forsyth. She said her county has several D and F schools, but she thinks the emphasis should be on performance because the goal is to get students on grade level. She said that is what academic performance encapsulates.

What Rep. Conrad should maybe consider is that performance gets better when students grow. And if proficiency is measured by moving targets like standardized tests, then what is considered grade level can pretty much be summed up in the same manner.

conrad

Are those students growing? That’s the question.

If very schools in her county which received “D’s” and “F’s” were growing students at great lengths but still were not at what she considered grade level, then I would consider those schools and teachers a success. Considering what factors they were against, what odds they faced, and what resources they had to gather on their own, they put students first. They saw progress and had faith in a process.

Where Rep. Conrad looked at a bottom line, maybe those teachers saw real people.

But then again, we could also take that paradigm and shift it to “test” those who seem bent on judging others on proficiency.

With another year sans NCAA Tournament games in a state that literally sweats NCAA basketball, it is rather ironic that Rep. Conrad talk about staying at “grade level” when a bill she openly supported (HB2) is literally hurting our state economically to the point that CBS game commentators talk about it during Duke’s opening round game.

The hundreds of millions of dollars lost because of HB2 certainly is not indicative of being of “grade-level” or of being “proficient.” Hell, it’s not even “growth.”

Oh, by the way, this past week Michigan did away with its school performance grades and even West Virginia did away with it for this year citing inconsistencies with the grading system that so many in Raleigh embraced.

Sounds like the grading system is not proficient.

No More Meals On Wheels – When Lack Of Empathy Is A Preexisting Condition

The older I become, the more I reflect on my grandparents. Both my biological grandfathers and step-grandfather were veterans. One saw frequent combat in WWII as a member of a Black Widow Squadron. My father’s mother even served in the Navy in WWII while her brother sacrificed his life in battle in Europe.

All of my grandparents experienced firsthand the Great Depression. They saw Jim Crow, Civil Rights, Vietnam, and other social struggles.

They also knew about community.

When my MaMa married my PaPa in the late 1970’s both of them began new chapters in their lives. Having lost their spouses in the previous five years, they had a new shared lease on life and the means to live rather comfortably. My Papa had never had children, so when he married my grandmother he all of a sudden had a “ready-made” family complete with grandchildren and stubborn personalities.

And he got to finally impart lessons he had ready to teach on those younger than he.

MaMa and PaPa were devout people, but more than that, they were giving people. They donated time, money, and energy to causes they thought worthy.

One of those causes was Meals-On-Wheels.

measl on wheels

Every week they delivered meals to house bound, elderly people who often lived alone and in rather meager environments. They not only delivered the meals. They visited these people.

They knew names. They knew histories. They knew aches and pains. They knew of medical appointments. They were part of other people’s lives. They understood the importance of human interaction.

My visits with my grandparents did not yield a change in their schedules. They simply took me along with them on their daily routines which meant getting up at some ungodly hour in the morning, eating breakfast without electronics, doing chores, bowling with old people in PaPa’s league, eating dinner at 4 in the afternoon and doing service work like Meals-On-Wheels without question.

And listening to two older people talk about what it meant to have others help, especially PaPa.

I got to listen to a man talk about the past as if he waited his whole life for a kid like me to come along and listen.

As a nine-year-old until I was well into college, if I was visiting on a weekday that they were slated to deliver meals, I went with them. No questions asked.

I knew why they did it. My grandparents could care less about any notoriety or credit. It was a sense of community and the need to take care of others.

A life-long Republican, PaPa loved him some Ronald Reagan. He contributed to his campaigns. He said he felt safer with Reagan at the helm. He said he liked how Reagan did not talk badly about others around him. And if you grew up a country boy in rural Georgia, that was a sentiment felt by many. The older me does not look at Reagan as a beacon of economic prosperity for average Americans, but he did have a persona that was presidential and he did have a maxim about talking positively about others.

PaPa died a little over ten years ago. He saw his great granddaughter. He saw me get married to a woman he adored. And I remembered that one of the last things he said to me had to deal with Reagan and the administration that was currently in the White House and in Congress and how disappointed he was in them that they seemed so divided and neglectful of the average American.

In his beautifully blunt way of expressing himself, PaPa told me that “Reagan would slap the shit out of them.”

A picture of PaPa and MaMa is on my desk at home. I kept his bowling ball and use it on occasion rather badly. There are artifacts from him in my classroom because I like remembering him and things he taught me. There is a book about PaPa floating somewhere inside of me.

I thought of him last night when I saw this. The New York Times released a report that outlined the budget proposal of the Trump administration (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/15/us/politics/budget-epa-state-department-cuts.html). It stated,

“In addition to the cuts at the E.P.A. and the State Department, Mr. Trump’s team is expected to propose a wide array of cuts to public education, to transportation programs like Amtrak and to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, including the complete elimination of the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which funds popular programs like Meals on Wheels, housing assistance and other community assistance efforts.”

With the appointment of Betsy DeVos, cuts to public education were not surprising, but I could hear my PaPa roll in his grave when I read about the possible elimination of the Meals on Wheels program.

My PaPa would be the first to tell someone that he/she needed to do everything he/she could for him/herself before expecting someone to help. He would have agreed with the old Chinese proverb that says, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

But he would also be the first to say, “Don’t pollute that man’s waters.”

He would also say, “If the man can’t hold his own fishing pole, then do it for him because we take care of each other.”

PaPa had something that I don’t think Trump has – empathy. He knew what it was like. He never forgot was loss was like. He never forgot mercy. He never forgot loving others.

That’s why he did the Meals on Wheels program, even helping people who were younger than he was.

And I know exactly what PaPa would have said last night if he read the same report and saw Trump on television at a rally for himself in Tennessee.

“A president who has to have a rally to validate himself while hurting good people is a man who does not love others well.”

And then he would say,

“Reagan would slap the shit out of him.”

The NC General Assembly Should Cap Class Sizes and Fund For Arts and PE – Jesus and Churchill Would. It’s About Investing In Our Kids, Not Using Them As Pawns.

Arika Herron’s recent Winston-Salem Journal column this past Sunday entitled “Too big to learn? Schools seeking waivers for exceeding class-size limits” brought to mind the ongoing disconnect that legislative leaders in our state have with reality when it comes to curbing class sizes in public schools.

As reported last fall in a variety of media outlets, NC General Assembly leaders were pushing to limit class sizes in early grades (k-3) to a prescribed number. The problem with the original bills associated with such an endeavor was that there would be no additional funding to really alleviate the need for extra classrooms and teachers because fewer students per classroom would mean more required classes and more space.

Well… actually, there was a solution to that in the eyes of many a lawmaker – cut “non-core” classes, specifically physical education, art, music, and other specialties. If certain classes cannot be tested by state tests for “student achievement,” then they may not be as important.

At least to some.

And with Herron’s report came the stark realization that many in Raleigh still choose to ignore the reality in schools for what appears to be purposeful reasons. And when they do finally witness what happens in public schools, these lawmakers feign surprise.

For instance from Herron,

In a recent visit to Jefferson Elementary School, which has six classrooms with more than 24 students, Rep. Debra Conrad, R­-Forsyth, said she was surprised to see such large classes.

“We allot based on a ratio,” she said. “We’re trying to find out what (school districts) have been doing with the money.”

School officials said the district doesn’t fill classrooms with just 18 students — as the state allots — because it uses some of its allotted teaching positions to hire for special classes like art, music and physical education. There is not a specific state allotment to hire those special teachers and because they don’t have a dedicated class assigned to them, they do not affect a school’s teacher­-to-­student ratio.

Jefferson Elementary is one of the highest rated schools in the district and has been for quite a while, and Debra Conrad has been a representative for Forsyth County for at least three terms.

Further on in Herron’s report it states,

The flexibility that currently allows districts to do that and fill classes above their allotted ratio is in jeopardy. A provision of the budget bill would hold schools to strict class sizes starting with the 2017­18 school year.

However, lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would give back the flexibility after school districts across the state said they would have to cut art, music and gym classes in order to comply. Some districts, like Forsyth County, have said they’re also already facing a teacher shortage and struggling to fill the elementary positions they have now — let alone dozens more. Many districts would need additional classroom spaces, too.

What they do not see must not exist. And what does not exist must not need money.

This is not just by accident. And it is not simple ignorance.

It’s intentional. And until they receive lots of feedback from lots of angry parents and citizens, they will not reverse course. That’s why it is incumbent to call lawmakers. That’s why our journalists must be fearless in reporting what is true.

Remember, this is the very same General Assembly that ramrodded vouchers (Opportunity Grants) down the throats of tax payers to allow people to send their children to private schools because of the thought that public schools were not doing their job.

The recent Duke Law School Children’s Law Center’s report called SCHOOL VOUCHERS IN NORTH CAROLINA : THE FIRST THREE YEARS (https://law.duke.edu/childedlaw/School_Vouchers_NC.pdf.) has some rather enlightening summations about the NC voucher program established by the same people who want the very class size restrictions in public schools, yet who also claim ignorance to what happens in overcrowded schools. One of the most damning conclusions states,

“The North Carolina voucher program is well designed to promote parental choice, especially for parents who prefer religious education for their children. It is poorly designed, however, to promote better academic outcomes for children and is unlikely to do so.”

While these lawmakers applaud the structure of the private schools for their small class size, unique approaches to teaching, and their well-rounded curriculum, they seem to admonish traditional public schools in their quest to have the same resources.

Ironic that over 93% of vouchers go to private religious schools that are overwhelmingly Christian in affiliation, and while traditional public schools are having to worry about cutting arts, music, dance, and physical education just to fit students within limited resources, voucher-enabled religious schools get to teach their students in reduced-sized classrooms verses like,

“Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.” – Psalm 149:3.

 “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.  Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” – First Timothy 4:14-15.

“Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” – 1 Corinthians 9:26-27.

Those verses talk about music, dance, creative talents, and physical fitness. And those are being sacrificed by our General Assembly within traditional public schools under a ruse of fiscal responsibility when in actuality it is nothing but ignorance and neglect.

When so many of our lawmakers who tout the very “reforms” that have actually hurt traditional public schools profess such a love of Jesus Christ, then would it not make sense for them to invest in all schools?

And when lawmakers like the aforementioned Rep. Conrad support school choice and vouchers they are actually supporting using tax payer money to help fund schools that service far fewer students than traditional public schools.

Consider another observation from the SCHOOL VOUCHERS IN NORTH CAROLINA: THE FIRST THREE YEARS report.

“The participating schools range in size from very small to large. As the following chart shows, six of the participating schools enroll more than 1,000 students. The most typical size for a participating school is between 100 and 250 students. However, 33 schools (7%) have ten or fewer students, with another 42 (9%) enrolling 20 or fewer students. Together, that means that nearly a fifth of the schools accepting vouchers have total enrollments of 20 or fewer students” (p.8).

The “most typical size for a voucher accepting school is between 100 and 250 students?” That’s fairly eye-opening when you consider that many public high school teachers are teaching six out of eight slots in a block schedule without a cap on students per class. That means that many high school teachers in typical public schools are teaching as many students in their classes (150-200) as there are total in the “typical” school that participates in the voucher program here in North Carolina.

And yet lawmakers have measured the merit of teachers and graded our public schools without regard to class sizes in the past few years, but when they decide to alleviate the “class size” issue they create a “bait-and-switch” scenario that further weakens how public schools can service the majority of school aged-children.

It was a little encouraging to hear Rep. Craig Horn quoted last November in NC Policy Watch acknowledging that the NCGA’s original ideas to “curb” class sizes were not very clearly thought out.

How things play out is not always how you expect them to play out,” Horn told Policy Watch this week. “I mean, we obviously intended to make class changes. Did we fully understand all of the implications? Quite frankly, hell no” (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2016/11/14/new-rules-lower-class-sizes-force-stark-choices-threatening-tas-specialty-education-positions/).

Ironic that Rep. Horn is a huge admirer of Winston Churchill. He often quotes him and makes reference to him on his website, craighorn.com.

Craig is often called “Representative Churchill” by his legislative colleagues owing to his close association with the Churchill Centre. Craig is president of the Churchill Society of North Carolina and serves on the Board of Governors of the International Churchill Society and the Churchill Centre.

So he may know of this quote that is falsely attributed to Winston Churchill.

winston-churchill-arts

It would be fantastic for this essay if that quote was actually Churchill’s. Yet, alas.

But Churchill did say this.

“The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them….Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.”

That works well enough.

What would work even better is for the North Carolina General Assembly to take measures to cap all class sizes and keep the arts and physical education classes alive and vibrant.

It’s money well spent. Rather, it’s money well invested.

Open Letter to Rep. Virginia Foxx Concerning Genetic Testing

Dear Rep. Foxx,

I read with great interest and increasing dread the report in today’s Winston-Salem Journal concerning workplace genetic testing.

The report entitled “Employees who decline genetic testing could face penalties under proposed bill” gives a brief outline of a bill that you have introduced as HR1313 that would

“undermine basic privacy provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 2008 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, or GINA.”

It goes on to further state,

“Congress passed GINA to prohibit discrimination by health insurers and employers based on the information that people carry in their genes. There is an exception that allows for employees to provide that information as part of voluntary wellness programs. But the law states that employee participation must be entirely voluntary, with no incentives to provide it, or penalties for not providing it (http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/employees-who-decline-genetic-testing-could-face-penalties-under-proposed/article_ec4136ca-650a-5ecd-9963-f5fb91acf1d4.html) .”

And now in a dystopian encore to the recently introduced “Trumpcare” bill that Paul Ryan has even defended as a means of taxing the poor more and giving the rich expanded tax cuts, you seem to be further proving that you are out of touch with the very constituency you represent.

You have said many controversial statements in the past and voted against the waves of common sense and decency. For instance:

  • You voted against relief for Hurricane Katrina in Sept. of 2005.
  • You defended Roger Clemens’s against steroid use by showing viewers on The Daily Show posters of the former Cy Young Award winner in an attempt to educate others on physique.
  • You co-sponsored a bill to make Jesus part of Christmas in 2008.
  • You have been quoted as saying, “Democrats have a tar baby on their hands,” that Matthew Shepherd’s death was a “hoax,” and that, “we have more to fear from the potential of the Affordable Care Act passing than we do from any terrorist right now in any country.”

Those are just a few examples. But this recent episode, I believe, might be the most egregious. Why? Because for someone who espouses such a strong public persona of faith in God and Jesus Christ, you are literally allowing for-profit companies to discriminate against people based on their genetics.

Simply put, you are proposing that people be discriminated against because of the way GOD MADE THEM!

Genetic testing can be a very scary experience. My wife and I experienced it when as older parents-to-be we received a prenatal diagnosis that our son had Down Syndrome. Extra chromosome aside, we have been blessed to raise our son just as God made him, but he does have a condition that can manifest itself in a variety of health-related obstacles.

You said in your comments concerning H.R. 3504, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, “These tiny, vulnerable lives deserve the protection afforded all other persons under the law, and this bill ensures that their lives are protected.” Did that mean you would as a law maker and a Christian would help ensure that their lives would be protected even after they reached adulthood and became part of the tax-paying workforce who votes as well?

Your introduction of HR1313 seems to contradict that very notion.

Not only am I a parent of a child with special genetics, a voter in your district, but I am also a public school teacher. In fact, I teach high school English and I do actively read, not just for pleasure, but to keep learning how others view the world. A recent perusal of Amazon.com yielded a possible “next-read.”

god is in the house

The description reads as follows:

“A very inspired and original compilation for this election year, ”God Is in the House” is a collection of essays by members of Congress who reflect on their deep faith and how it guides them as legislators. The book was compiled by Representative Virginia Foxx who personally asked congressional colleagues who are devout in their faith to contribute, coworkers who are in Bible study with her, and colleagues she knows on a personal level.”

It’s the “how it (deep faith) guides them as legislators” part of the description that confuses me because HR1313 does not seem to be honoring your faith in God, but rather honors your faith in profits.

And is it not ironic that the foreword is written by Paul Ryan, the architect of the current version of “Trumpcare” that actually takes more from the poor and gives it to the rich? Now that’s “God in the House!”

Yes, I understand that this does not mean that HR1313 would allow any employer to force all their workers to submit to genetic testing. But what it does mean is that employers can control how wellness benefits can be applied to employees based on whether they do or do not voluntarily give into genetic testing. What is to keep a particular employer from defining what can and cannot be covered under a “wellness” program.

In fact, an employer under your bill would be able to keep employees from being able to get premium rebates if they chose not to submit genetic testing. That’s allowing companies to control rates for insurance and what coverage they can extend – pure and simple.

What if one of your own children or grandchildren was subjected to such a test and was denied critical coverage or had to pay a steep penalty or higher premiums that could financially hinder family finances because of some unforeseen genetic “malady” or predisposition beyond his/her control? Would you tell that loved one that a “legal certainty” for someone else’s bottom line was more important than making sure that people could get the best health care they could?

I have an idea what Jesus would say.

However, before you even consider pressing this bill any further in Congress, I suggest that you be willing to subject yourself (along with others who support this bill) to a genetic test.

Maybe, we would then discover the very gene that predisposes one to obey the influence of large insurance company lobbyists rather than the very people that person is supposed to serve.

Musings With Malcolm – You Play The Game With What You Have (And With What You Can)

Once again, my little man and I went to another event to cheer on some students except this tie it was not an athletic event, but rather an intellectual one.

The Piedmont Environmental Alliance and the Wake Forest University Debate Team helped to stage their annual debate tournament. West sent three teams.

Malcolm is not much on debate. When he argues, he usually lets it all out at once.

Red hair gets redder. Teenage angst comes a few years early. But he hung in there for a bit and helped cheer on some great students who went and did some rather great things. In fact, hardware was won, respect gained, and hard work rewarded.

Then Malcolm and I got some ice cream.

But as soon as we got home he went to his room (and apparently mine), got changed, and proceeded to prepare for his afternoon baseball/basketball practice.

You have to. There’s still daylight and we are supposed to get a blizzard tomorrow.

Bat, ball, glove, bases, baggy shorts, old hat, baseball shirt, and water shoes.

Why?

Don’t ask why. Just do it!

So here we go.

Again, notice the deliberate approach to hitting the ball. Then the bat flip, but it gets better. Because…

those pants that he stole from my drawer are some of my water shorts that I use for swimming and not matter how tightly I tie them, they fall.

But, no worries, he won’t let his butt hang out.

Decorum is still important.

Yet, while running, he senses that there might be other things to see. And behold, he comes out with…

a BIGGER bat!

So we hit some more. And then I notice that he has surfboards on his underwear.

And that makes the whole ensemble seem complete.

The ability to mesh swimming, baseball, basketball, baggy shorts, multiple bats, old hats, and water shoes into one fluid activity is not just imagination and creativity.

It’s beautiful.

Enjoy the snow, or lack thereof.

If You Ever Wanted to Know About the Unwise Use of the Opportunity Grants Then Read This Report on NC School Vouchers by The Children’s Law Center at Duke Law School Of Law

The always vital voice of Lindsay Wagner of the Fletcher Foundation tweeted about this earlier today by posting the following table found in the Children’s Law Center’s recent March 2017 report called SCHOOL VOUCHERS IN NORTH CAROLINA : THE FIRST THREE YEARS.

Duke study

Let those blank spaces sink in for a minute. The lack of oversight by itself compared to other states listed should be shocking. But this entire report is full of rather stunning observations of a program that will take almost 1 billion dollars of tax payer money after the next decade into what many outside of our state consider the most lax and enabled brand of privatization of public schools.

The entire report can be found here:  https://law.duke.edu/childedlaw/School_Vouchers_NC.pdf.

But just to give you a flavor of what the Opportunity Grants have done according to one of the more respected research universities in the nation, consider the following excerpted observations:

  • Approximately 93% of the vouchers have been used to pay tuition at religious schools (3).
  • Based on limited and early data, more than half the students using vouchers are performing below average on nationally-standardized reading, language, and math tests. In contrast, similar public school students in NC are scoring above the national average (3).
  • The North Carolina voucher program is well designed to promote parental choice, especially for parents who prefer religious education for their children. It is poorly designed, however, to promote better academic outcomes for children and is unlikely to do so (3).
  • Previous research on North Carolina private schools in general showed that more than 30% of private schools in North Carolina are highly segregated (more than 90% of students of one race) and 80% enroll more than half of the same race.10 Without data on racial enrollments in voucher schools, it is not clear whether vouchers contribute to school segregation. Because of the overall data on private schools, however, the voucher program may well be contributing to increasing school segregation (7).
  • Of the participating schools, less than 20% were secular schools; more than 80% were religious schools. This does not line up exactly with the percentages of vouchers used at religious schools versus secular schools (93% at religious schools), because several religious schools enrolled large numbers of students (8).
  • The most typical size for a participating school is between 100 and 250 students. However, 33 schools (7%) have ten or fewer students, with another 42 (9%) enrolling 20 or fewer students. Together, that means that nearly a fifth of the schools accepting vouchers have total enrollments of 20 or fewer students (8).
  • Although it is not an “apples-to-apples” comparison, the most recent data shows that comparable students who remained in public schools are scoring better than the voucher students on national tests (12).
  • In comparison to most other states, North Carolina’s general system of oversight of private schools is weak. North Carolina’s limited oversight reflects a policy decision to leave the quality control function primarily to individual families. Under North Carolina law, private schools are permitted to make their own decisions regarding curriculum, graduation requirements, teacher qualifications, number of hours/days of operation, and, for the most part, testing. No accreditation is required of private schools (13).
  • Unlike some laws, the law creating the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Program does not set out its purpose (15).
  • In fact, there is no requirement that the participating private schools meet any threshold of academic quality. Thus, to the extent that the program was established to provide options for better academic outcomes for children, nothing in the program’s design assures or even promotes that outcome (15-16).
  • THE LEGISLATIVE DECISION TO EXEMPT VOUCHER STUDENTS FROM PARTICIPATING IN THE STANDARD STATE END-OF-GRADE TESTS MEANS THAT NO RESEARCHER WILL EVER BE ABLE TO MAKE AN “APPLES-TO-APPLES” COMPARISON BETWEEN PUBLIC SCHOOL AND VOUCHER STUDENTS (18).
  • The North Carolina program allows for participation in the program by children who are not in failing schools and by private schools that do not offer a more academically promising education (19).